The upcoming winter/spring edition of the Front Porch’s “Public House Church” (aka, Pub Church) explores Dostoevsky’s compelling, though enigmatic assertion that “beauty will save the world.” Beauty that takes our breath away opens our hearts. And once our hearts open — in that very instant! — we see the world and everything in it as beautiful. This is the beauty that will save the world, and we will talk about all this from multiple perspectives through the eyes of distinguished guests and artists over the next five months at Scholz Garten on Sunday evenings.
The kind of beauty we’re interested in “unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond” (Benedict 16, 2009). In our distracted world, where there can be much banality, boredom, and ugliness, we need beauty. To be cut off from beauty is to fall into egoism, desiccation, and cowardice. By transfiguring our own vision through the power of co-creative attention giving, we can begin to see as God sees. And God sees the world and each of us in it as beautiful. In the Genesis story of creation, the Hebrew word for good may also be translated as beautiful—“And God saw that it was beautiful.”
We’re thus creating the space for epiphanies of beauty to happen on Sunday evenings. We’re hoping to offer those of us feeling hemmed in by our overly instrumental and fragmented culture the chance to expand our horizons, to connect with others, and to transform our vision of the world. When Mother Teresa saw the mutilated bodies and souls of the dying poor in Calcutta as beautiful, she wasn’t being irrational or sentimental—her vision had been transfigured and she saw clearly, as God sees.
What is beauty? Well…it’s particular, dialogical, vulnerable, surprising, insightful, simple, complex, gracious, generous, alive, organic, transcendent, agile and nimble. Beauty connects, wounds, disrupts, overpowers, delights, terrifies, and heals. Can beauty save the world? I guess that depends on how we see. Come and see with us beginning January 15th!
As I hope you’ll see from our annual report, The Front Porch has grown by leaps and bounds and has made a measurable impact on the Austin community in 2016!
Our service to the community as bridge-builders has really blossomed this year, and we have emerged as Austin’s distinctive “Public House Church” with a unique model for engaging people from all walks and beliefs through our signature events.
In a divided and individualistic culture, the need for public spaces to talk and connect with our neighbors is skyrocketing. The Front Porch has been blessed to address this need for many years—the work of bringing together differing voices to build spiritual community in public spaces in the real world.
As we look towards 2017, we see unprecedented opportunities. To this end, we are now exploring social enterprise models to enable the growth and expansion of The Front Porch brand and message to communities all over the country.
But, the question remains: what can we do to support this continued growth over time? How do we make the Front Porch a sustainable mainstay of the broader faith community?
We are pursuing these questions with all we’ve got! Your support will give us the confidence and power to move ahead faithfully to address the pressing public need for compassionate communities outside the church walls.
We are so grateful for our Front Porch partners! Please encourage us in the work we strive to do by making a year-end, tax-deductible donation to The Front Porch…thank you!
Blessings and Peace,
Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, PhD
Hey, folks! Here’s little update.
As many of you know, the Front Porch team decided to undertake a deliberate shift this summer when we began calling ourselves a public house church, rather than an events-driven, nonprofit mission. We took away duplicitous names for our programming tracks, simplified a bit, and ended up in much clearer place: everywhere we gathered would be “Pub Church.” In making this theoretical adaptation, we retained both our freedom to be spontaneous through “Special Events” and our pledged support for our city’s finest songwriters through a quarterly approach to Unplugged on the Front Porch. We would also further articulate the conversational nature of our events, which always strive to generate a true dialogue. And, most importantly, this change would insist that we spotlight most what we do best: the dialogue based, live-music infused eucharist service that we now call Pub Church on Sunday evenings at 5:30 (currently at Scholz Garten and formerly called Parable).
The longer we thought about this change, the more we realized what an amazing window we had opened up for ourselves and our congregation. The new intentionality of it all urged us to commit even harder and think even deeper. So, we did. We decided to organize the pub church happenings across central themes, and divide these by our traditional seasons, which usually run September to December and January to June. Next spring, we’re thoroughly pumped to tackle beauty. At the moment, though, we’re smack dab in the middle of a four-month dialogue about compassion with some of Austin’s most brilliant thinkers and doers, using Karen Armstrong’s powerhouse book, 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, as our guiding text.
In the weeks that followed, what we saw unfold was pure magic. Whether it was Lynn Goodman-Strauss–founder and purveyor of Mary House Catholic Worker in Austin– telling us an anecdote about finding humanity in Austin’s homeless through her common table, or Biointegrity founder, Chris Searles, gently warning us that our lack-of-compassion toward our forests and indigenous peoples may leave us in a weather nightmare and without oxygen, or Meredith Walker, co-founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, explaining the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion when it comes to our world’s young women, each of our guests achieved our mission in engaging and new ways by simply opening their mouths and adding their two-cents to our running dialogue. While this was very similar to what we had done in years past with Parable, the sustained nature of the dialogue made it radically different. The conversation was continuing: we were still learning more about the same thing the next week, and that felt like tangible progress. Plus, the unique resources of top-notch Austin brains interacting together was opening doors each and every Sunday, allowing new ideas to emerge and flourish.
CHECK OUT OUR SOUNDCLOUD TO LISTEN TO THESE TALKS AND MORE!
Talk about what feels like a home run for us as we consider our mission to get Austin folks talking and coming to their own, new and personal understandings of Christ’s continuing work in our world: this invitation to all of us to partner together and connect in celebration of each person’s perspective, despite a 2016 reality that feels increasingly divided. To us, this coming together of minds is the purest form of church out there–especially when it’s coupled with Front Porch director, Steve Kinney’s, take on a radically open communion to sum it all up, and mini-concert from some of Austin’s finest troubadours sandwiched in the middle.
Thanks to this new approach, we feel like we’re all co-creators of a new, Front Porchy model for compassionate living that we’re building in dialogue with Karen Armstrong’s model. Starting with my boss and partner, Steve Kinney– who reminded us all at the start that compassion, more than anything, is based in offering the perspective of another human being “provisional authority“– and finishing with our final guests this season, Tifini Jones Blakes and Bavu Blakes–who will be tackling “loving your enemies” in the wake of this election, increasing racial disparity in the United States, and more– and including all of our hearty co-questers in the congregation who pass our roving mic and join in the dialogue as we go, this new model is and will remain uniquely informed by the people of The Front Porch in Austin, Texas, to be examined by the people of the world. And that feels pretty cool, too.
Now that we’re channeling this approach on Sundays, learning about compassion has overflowed into our other events as well. Steve couldn’t help but touch on compassion during his interview with Matt the Electrician during our Unplugged on The Front Porch concert in October, and our Post-Election Detox– now less than a week away– is defined by compassionate thinkers and liturgy. In short, clarifying through this over-the-weeks approach deepens all of our programming–not just Pub Church.
We hope you’ll join us in upcoming weeks as we welcome international bestseller, Corban Addison, Police Chief Art Acevedo, legendary Texas architect, Larry Speck, and others in November and December. We’re also so happy to welcome some AMAZING Native American spiritual leaders to the Porch later this month for our annual Bailey Lectures, which will focus this year on restoration and healing across that particular divide, and we hope you’ll attend that happening as well. So much is happening on the Porch, and none of it could happen without all of you. In the meantime, if this dialogue has caught your interest, go check out our SoundCloud. All of our Pub Church conversations up until now are currently posted there, and we’d love for you to hear what’s happening, even if you can’t be here with us in Austin physically.
I look forward to seeing you all on The Porch, when you can make it! If you want to get involved on a volunteer level, please email me! I’d love to hear from you.
Program Coordinator, The Front Porch
The Front Porch convened a high stakes conversation about the plight and possibilities of music in Austin on September 15th. We were joined by a panel of key stakeholders and about 200 in attendance who care deeply about the direction of music in Austin, yet tire of the handwringing over whether the city can sustain its posture as “Live Music Capitol of the World.” We were feeling around for viable solutions. We were also doing our best to avoid beating a dead horse.
The Front Porch added a few secret ingredients to this “Special Event” to help make it a true dialogue. First and foremost, we brought bestselling author and top-notch music historian, Ted Gioia, from Dallas to guide us in the first portion of our quest in a keynote speech. Second, we designed our panel discussion to allow fast input from key locals who spend their days deeply invested in Austin music. And, third, we invited EVERYONE back for an informal reception with pizza and drinks to finish it off and keep the gears moving. We hope that everyone who wanted to chat with Ted, Mayor Adler, and our other distinguished panel members got a chance to do so.
We want to give major credit where it is due: to local drummer, Philip Marshall, who dreamed up this event, launched us into action, and helped run the whole thing; to Heather Wagner Reed of Juice Consulting, who got the word out for us and got all of those key folks together, in one room; and, of course, we also want to thank our whole volunteer team from Unplugged on The Front Porch. If you haven’t joined us yet for one of our Unplugged concerts, we hope you’ll join us this Thursday (10/20) for an evening with Matt the Electrician! Full event details can be found here.
While using the word “crisis” in the event’s title set off alarms, Gioia’s message was actually incredibly thoughtful, positive, and forward thinking. In his keynote, Gioia addressed everything from the history of pop music and record labels to today’s youth, YouTube, and Kendrick Lamar. He talked about Fortune 500 companies and the poorest of blues musicians. But, in everything, Gioia’s primary focus was the future viability of music itself.
Gioia began by surveying what other music cities are doing. The Chamber of Commerce in New Orleans, for example, touts their city as the “birthplace of jazz,” yet the value placed on nurturing their music ecosystem is found wanting, according to Gioia. He made the point that we should beware of symbolic gestures and said, “If you want to have a vibrant music scene, symbolic gestures will kill you in the long run. It feels good to put up the banner at the airport, but what you need to do is actually understand what is going on in the music ecosystem and support it and nurture it.”
Gioia, who has written 10 books about music, then explored the music ecosystem in economic, technological, and cultural or artistic terms. Discussing the economic crisis in music, Gioia claimed that most people will no longer pay for music and that musicians are under pressure to give their music away as content in order to gain exposure. He pointed out that this is not the case with HBO, video games, or the NFL. HBO, for example, hires the very best talent for top dollar, focuses programming towards adults, and gets top dollar for it. He asks, “What do these folks know that the music industry doesn’t know?”
He then explored the impact of technology and the Internet on the music industry, making the case that Silicon Valley has taken over the music business. The iPhone has made Apple the largest music company in the world, though it was not designed to play music but to sell phones faster than the competition. Gioia believes this constitutes a dangerous shift in the music industry, as there are now people controlling the downstream distribution of music who don’t really care about the music itself. “The tech companies have taken control of music but they do not love it or understand it… They have degraded the music experience,” he says.
And yet, he notes, with different technology this effect could be reversed. If musicians and tech groups can get together on this and problem solve, perhaps both could partner their way forward. It must to happen in a great music city that is also a great tech city. Gioia asked to great laughter, “Do any of you know of a city that meets that description?” He then made the claim that Austin is the only city that has the music base and the technology base that could create a different technological experience that would upgrade the experience.
The real crisis in music, of course, is that whole areas in arts culture have been co-opted by the profiteers of the digital world. Gioia made a compelling appeal for why. “You need to solve the artistic crisis if you want to solve the musical crisis. You cannot just view music as entertainment that brings in the dollars. You must nurture the artistry.” To preserve and nurture a sustainable music ecosystem, Gioia insists that we must discern the distinction between entertainment and art: “Entertainment gives us what we want, whereas art challenges us, pushes us, opens up new horizons. When you deal with a work of art, you must adjust to the artist. We have to expand our minds to grasp it; we have to get out of our comfort zones and learn to think and look in new ways.”
Gioia sums it all up by telling us what he thinks is going to happen over the next 10-15 years in music. He calls the wisp he glimpses of this new movement “the birth of artisan music… It’s a respect for craft. It’s a respect for the heritage and tradition, but it’s taking music into new places… It requires a community of real artists who can play. It requires a tech base that can work with the musicians. It requires a community that has a vibrant economic base and a community that loves music. Austin is positioned to make this happen. Let’s work to make this happen for the good of all in the city.” To listen to the whole talk on KUT, click here or on the photo at the top of the page.
When the event moderator, NPR’s John Burnett, asked for panelists’ responses to the address, most had more questions and comments than we had time to take. Here are a few takeaways and quotes.
Mayor Steve Adler said, “There are lots of conversations that we could have this evening about music and what I loved about what you [Ted Gioia] said is that it was almost entirely forward looking and that’s the conversation that we have to have in this city right now. We are where we are.” So the question is begged: where do we go from here, and how do we get there? How can we support the music scene and make it stronger?
Harold McMillan, founder and director of DiverseArts Culture Works, noted the irony that, while Austin is the “live music capitol in the world,” the big money music business could do better to celebrate the roots and vibe of the local Austin music scene. Eve Monsees, co-owner of Antone’s Record Shop, felt that the Austin music community has been stressed out and spread thin by its many challenges and that we need to pull together to support each other’s efforts to thrive.
Will Bridges, local entrepreneur and new owner of Arlyn Studios and Antone’s nightclub, accented the need to support our music ecosystem by providing more music education for kids. He also reminded us that Austin’s live music scene is often driven by the live music experience, and not by the record industry. Nicole Bogatz, the secretary/treasurer of the Austin Federation of Musicians, argued that the community could do a better job of giving musicians the livable wage they deserve.
Dr. John Mills, professor of jazz studies at UT’s Butler School of Music, recognized the pressure musicians feel to give away their music on YouTube and elsewhere, and that this makes it difficult to make a livable wage. Jennifer Houlihan, the director of Austin Music People, sees that the challenges to the Austin music community represent the challenges that folks all over Austin will be facing sooner than later. Jennifer hopes that as the music community addresses these problems—affordable housing, public transportation, health care, etc.— and asserts that it can lead the way to helping Austin solve some problems.
The festive reception following this conversation–courtesy of the Philip Marshall Trio, Salvation Pizza, BookPeople, and Black Star Co-Op’s beer–reminded of the power we all have when we all come together, across all our divides: to think, envision, and act as the caring, creative community we are.
The Front Porch is planning a follow-up event for this spring to consider solutions. As Ted Gioia suggested, these problems could very well be solved by collaboration between new-wave techies and old soul musicians. Out of Austin’s 140 music-focused nonprofits, creative juices are churning right now, and the support for these folks isn’t going away. People are interested in finding solutions, but the key to solution finding must be through a common vision, openness to new perspectives, and partnering across our silos.
Too many questions linger; we can’t possibly ask them all. But, what we can do is continue this dialogue, in attempts of finding those solutions more readily and being a viable part of this shift towards new horizons in how we look at music both locally and globally. We at the Front Porch readily admit that we are not the music experts ourselves; we are, rather, hosts to this important series of conversations about our city’s pride and joy, music. We hope you’ll all join us for our next music forum, which has yet to be titled. For now, mark your calendars for the evening of April 20th! And join us for our other happenings in the meantime!
In the mid 1990’s I served one summer as the interim Vicar of a small parish church in the village of Great Horkesley in Essex County, UK. 10-15 people at most attended the church service on Sunday mornings.
Most of my time as a minister there was spent in the local village pub. The Anchor Inn was the public house—the gathering place to meet friends after work, to cheer the occasional victory of the local cricket team, to listen to area leaders address topics of interest. Families met there to celebrate birthdays and there was always lots of singing and music. I was invited to lead discussions and teach an “ethics class” two times per week. I became part of that public family.
I’ve thought a lot about this over the summer. It’s time for us on the porch to become more intentional about who we are and what we do. This fall, the Front Porch is thus becoming a do-it-yourself public house; in fact, we’re declaring ourselves to be Austin’s Pub Church that meets Sunday evenings at Scholz Garten.
So what we used to call PARABLE is now, simply, “The Front Porch’s Pub Church.” Each week we’ll be exploring Karen Armstrong’s very fine work on compassion–12 Steps to a Compassionate Life–as a curricula of sorts. We’ve invited different guests to help lead our more extended conversation. We will continue to host some of Austin’s great singer-songwriters and offer a very focused act of communion to pull us all together.
Join us some Sunday and bring a friend. I hope to see you soon in our public house!
The Hebrew slaves who escaped Egypt gave us an image, a story, and a language for expressing freedom from oppression. It depicts the passing over from death to life.
The Front Porch explored the Exodus story at its recent public celebration of Easter at Scholz’ Garten that began with this invitation: “Dear friends of the anointed, and those from every tribe and tradition who share the hope of coming alive from out of dead things: On this most holy night, we celebrate the passing over from death to life, the triumph of love over hate, and the gathering of the beloved in vigil, prayer, and communion.”
At that event, we asked Charles Dwain Stephens (aka Chucky Black) to slam the Exodus story from the Hebrew scriptures in a poem at that service.
Chucky’s slam was a sobering reminder that slavery persists in different guises under our very noses and that we need to renew passover continually. Indeed, On Being‘s Krista Tippett’s latest conversation with Michelle Alexander shows us that Jim Crow is alive and well, shows us where the chains are, and shows us how we might rouse ourselves to Let His People Go.
Here is the text that Chucky slammed at the Easter Vigil:
In the wake of Black Lives Matter, We said, “Let our people go”
And our collective voices scared the sleeping giant right out of its passive slumber
The great american pharoah was left naked in the mud
Shivering without the world it built as cover Sam said
“What’s with all the commotion Y’all have been free since good ole lincoln Why make a fuss now”
Sam talked real slick but we could see ships writhe in its shadow And vultures circle the insides of his mouth
at place between the teeth that boasts chewed thing Sam Spoke to us as if he weren’t still digesting the past 400 years
As if the white house wasn’t a pyramid we built too We knew the grit in his speech like we knew the black of our hands
Like this pain was genetics
Like our survival was a black helix spinning towards a tired gesture We said
Pharaoh oh pharoah Does our plight not burden yours
Does the american dream not singe everytime a black body greets dusk
Are we but a howling image left behind in your shining legacy We said
America the free Home of the brave
Are your dreams not built upon your sins too Is it not a shifting foundation
With every step threatening your once sure footing Each day becoming sinking sand beneath your very inheritance We left the respectability at home
Because our humanity shouldn’t have to teeter on it. We made sure the whole world heard our unruly chorus
Our good bones and skin and teeth Being ripped back from the very land that staked it’s illegitimate claim Our mouths boasting triumph
Even During the darkest hour And the nights when the moon denied us audience
We howled a gospel that shook fruit from tree That undid the labored knot
coughed up the red sea in our uproar That had the great wilderness running away on pitched lumber
Trying to forget its treachery towards man Trying to undo the bodies it hid as game
And My god was it a beautiful day This was our ten plagues of only spite
Of simply living and breathing And that being an act of resistance all its own
If you want to get a feeling for the inspiration behind the Front Porch, at least from a biblical perspective, here is Stephen Kinney’s take from a sermon he gave at All Saints’ Episcopal Church on April 24th, 2016 on Acts 10-11 and John 13.31.35. It includes material from Huck Finn and W.H. Auden.
At our recent event, “The Front Porch, KUT, & BookPeople present Krista Tippett–Becoming Wise,” Krista gave a particularly poignant response to the last questioner. Here it is! Pass it on!
Anya Opshinsky and Serena Adlerstein contacted the Front Porch out of the blue almost a year ago with the idea of helping us with our art and community development, social media, and communication strategies. They found us on line in their search for nonprofits and arts communities they might serve in their post-college trek across the country. They made the Front Porch so much better! They got our podcast channel on SoundCloud set up, revamped our website, managed our programs, interviewed and recorded friends of the Porch, advised and consulted on everything during December and January! Most of all, they became dear friends and special members of the Front Porch family. Here, they offer their perceptive reflections and unique perspectives on their time with us.
We are Anya Opshinsky and Serena Adlerstein, two artist-travelers working with The Front Porch as a part of a venture entitled Community Routes. Community Routes is a research-based road trip that seeks to celebrate community-centered art making throughout the country. From October 2015 to April 2016 we are visiting and learning from some of the artists, organizers, and thinkers that most inspire us in order to explore the connection between the arts and strong communities. Anya is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College and a socially-engaged theater artist. Serena attended NYU and is interested in arts administration and community organizing. Together we are volunteering for 30 hours a week with the Front Porch.
We arrived in Austin in mid December, just in time for one of the few breaks in regular Front Porch programming. While we were not able to experience the usual quantity of Front Porch events, the pause allowed us to assist the Front Porch in a period of self-examination; we helped fine-tune a communication plan, assessed the Front Porch brand, brainstormed new outreach and growth strategies, and were daily enriched by the Front Porch’s ethos.
While all the organizations with which we’ve worked differ greatly from one another, The Front Porch has provided a particularly unique experience. Prior to our arrival, we weren’t completely sure what to expect. We inferred from the Front Porch’s website that Steve was either a current or former Episcopal priest who used the church’s model of communion in a secular realm to create meaningful events where people of all walks of life gathered to share in life’s journey. We imagined such events happening on literal front porches, even. We were surprised to learn that The Front Porch’s office is in fact run out of a church, many of its constituents came to The Front Porch due to its connection with the church, and that we felt incredibly welcomed despite and because of this. Steve is aware that the Front Porch’s religious foundation can feel alienating to some, but also knows that it is one of the Porch’s greatest assets. At the end of every Parable, Steve invites all present to share in God’s bounty regardless of their religious affiliation. He uses the communion ceremony as a way to solidify the humanizing experience that Parable events create. The Front Porch depends on people bringing their most authentic and open selves and therefore embraces the religious traditions and values that was the initial motivation for creating the organization.
It was at times difficult to ascertain if religion is in fact The Front Porch’s main driving force or merely its jumping off point, however. At events such as Unplugged, and even Film Church, it could be easy to forget that Steve is an Episcopal priest. We were just listening to beautiful music in a sanctuary with incredible acoustics and engaging in a compelling discussion after a good movie. What matters at the end of the day is that whoever attends a Front Porch event leaves feeling as if they had an engaging time.
November taught us many things about life on the Front Porch. We learned all over again that, given the chance, people love connecting vulnerably with other people across their various divides. Our old adage, “The Front Porch is a safe place in which to be uncomfortable,” was proven more than once this past month!
Sufi musician Amir Vahab taught us that sacred Persian music can help folks communicate with each other across different cultural and religious languages. We learned from our panel discussion with Contemplative Life’s Tom Spencer, Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Dialogue Institute director Guner Arslan, and All Saints’ Mike Adams that individuals from different perspectives have uncanny capacity to share what many call mystical kinship.
Our Sunday evening gatherings at Scholz’ Garten confirmed our best intuition about our mission: hosting conversations with luminous people, hearing the musical voices of some of Austin’s finest troubadours, and welcoming everybody to share communion in the public square makes a better Austin on multiple levels. This gathering, called PARABLE, was featured in the quarterly magazine, the diocese of Texas’s Dialog, and you can read it here.
We listened to persons who are homeless through the eyes of photographer Michael O’Brien. Poet, Jungian analyst, and priest Pittman McGehee got us thinking about hypocrisy, pretending, and whole-heartedness. The author of “The Art of God”, Jimi Calhoun, spoke tenderly of communion with others who may look different racially or physically. NPR’s John Burnett led a conversation with City Councilwoman Ora Houston, who opened our eyes to the people in her newly constituted District One that remain invisible to many. Throughout these intimate evenings, we listened and learned from seasoned musicians Paul Finley, John Pointer, Sara and Matt Wiley, and Chris and Elizabeth Knudson.
November’s Unplugged on the Front Porch concert with Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt reminded us, with Dostoyevsky, that indeed, “beauty will save the world.” The music, the people, and the space conspired to transform that Thursday evening into something sublime.
One of our most powerful learnings came through our collaboration with All Saints’ Episcopal Church to produce the annual Bailey lectures. This year’s lecturer Micky ScottBey Jones–writer, community organizer, theologian, and activist–challenged us to go much, much deeper to better understand our country’s recent upheavals over race. Micky was joined by HipHopGrewUp founder, local teacher, and musician Bavu Blakes.
Micky stressed that while major strides were taken by the Civil Rights activists of the 50’s and 60’s, the work toward a better world is never over for the true “extremist for love,” a phrase used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. We learned all over again and in new ways that we can’t afford to live in shame and fear of the other–we must instead, and more than ever, partner with our friends against deeply entrenched, even systemic racial and political divides to pursue a more worthwhile future for all.