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.
We are so grateful to Alisa Carr for sharing below her experience of this past Sunday’s Parable, the Front Porch’s pub church that meets at Scholz’ Garten each Sunday evening. Alisa works as a spiritual director, licensed counselor, and Reiki practitioner in south Austin.
I was really looking forward to participating in Parable this Sunday, and was relieved when timing allowed me to be present! I have learned to arrive a little early, so as to avoid a long line to order a beverage or a bite to eat, and to have a conversation or two before the “service” begins. We are here to worship and pray, yes, but not in the traditional sense…we are at Scholz’ beer garden in Austin, after all. We are gathering over bratwurst and beer. We are gathered at rectangular tables that invite us to look at each other and talk. This is a space of gathering to dialogue and connect with others—with intention and with the purpose of listening to, holding, and honoring both our differences and our similarities.
Austin singer-songwriter Stephen Smith is sharing his music with us this evening. He has a beautiful voice and sings us a prayer with a hint of the blues. It is a heart song with beautiful energy in which to enter some silence and then pray together Steve Kinney’s translated version of the Lord’s Prayer – words and phrases that also grab the heart, such as “that we may see as you see,” “interrupt us with grace,” “release us from the burden,” and so on. These phrases open up my heart and mind to receive what is to come. I am moved. Since today our topic is Marriage, we get to sing together The Wedding Song by Peter, Paul and Mary. I don’t know about everyone else, but tears well up in my eyes!
Yes, the topic for the evening is Marriage. We are led in that discussion by the teachings of Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest, J. Pittman McGehee. We talk about becoming whole, about becoming who we are created to be, and about relationship as the “crucible” for this inner journey. The hard work of embracing the shadow – within ourselves and in those whom we love – is the Way. This is the content that itself becomes a vessel for vulnerable and heartfelt sharing of personal struggle. How do I love and accept myself? How do I move beyond shame and guilt to allow myself the freedom to be and express who I am in my core? How do I accept the messiness that is within me? Where we wind up in this discussion is where we started in the opening of silent prayer…an invitation to compassion, the freedom to be, radical acceptance, and love. I experience compassion drawing us together – the openness of a few taking the whole group, or at least those of us willing to go, to greater depths.
I like to come to Parable as often as I can, and I am grateful that it is now a weekly gathering. The more I come, the more I witness and participate in the community that is emerging. It seems that every week there are people willing to express deeply felt experiences, opinions, feelings, challenges, and hopes. In an atmosphere that is, on the surface, more conducive to cheering for a favorite sports team, we are increasingly exposing ourselves with courage and vulnerability. I have found myself wanting to reach out in support, encouragement, and gratitude.
With that level of heart opening, we move into Parable’s unique celebration of Communion – what has drawn me here in the first place. Every week, Steve leads us in the most earthy, intimate, and descriptive telling of the Eucharistic story that I have ever heard. Amidst the clamor of the kitchen, the music of the guitar, bass or other instruments, conversations erupting, and between bites of bratwurst or burgers and sips of beer, wine or tea, we approach the “common table.” Surrounded by all the sounds and would-be distractions, we receive those familiar words of blessing, “The Body of Christ, The Bread of Life…The Blood of Christ, The Cup of Salvation…” as we share table fellowship for all. For this life-long, liturgical, contemplative Episcopalian this is both profane and sacred! It turns out that the line between those two realities is quite murky, if present at all. Being among others who are willing to hold that tension is what keeps me coming back to Parable on The Front Porch!
The Front Porch hosts Parable every Sunday evening (starting September 13th) at Scholz’ beer garden! What does this mean? Does it mean we are now a church, since we’re going to meet weekly, instead of monthly? Kind of…maybe not. It depends on what we mean by church. The fact is, we are a mission of All Saints’ Episcopal church, and we love the idea of calling people into self-forgetful compassion through music, art, conversation, and communion.
That last phrase sounded kind of churchy, no? Let’s try this: we want to be known for modeling an alternative way to get together in the public square that is inclusive, authentic, artful, and genuine. Are we a liberal group trying to be hip and relevant in postmodern, pluralistic culture? Well…no! We really push back against reductionist labels like liberal, progressive, traditional, or conservative as misleading, overly generalized concepts. We’d like to think that truth transcends such abstractions. More importantly, our uniqueness as a community of particular human beings is far greater than the sum of our parts.
We’d rather be experienced as a safe place in which to be slightly uncomfortable–i.e., an ordinary, real place where folks of all stripes and beliefs have a chance to be vulnerable in a way that allows their comfort zones to be challenged. We want to experiment with the idea of belonging and learning from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. I guess that’s what we mean when we say we are about communion, not religion. Along this open-ended, partnering path, we discover that it’s less about our quest for God, than about God’s quest for us!
Are we Christian? In what way and how does Parable convey the gospel? What are we trying to do? Are we just church-lite for folks bored with convention or who want the chance to sleep in on Sunday morning? Or are we a more disruptive force for rethinking conventional assumptions? Is there a theological or theoretical framework for what we do? Is it biblical?
Yikes! Things are suddenly getting dicey. Let’s regroup. Basically, we’re inviting people of all beliefs and perspectives to see how beautiful they and others are. We have a very relational approach to truth. It’s dialogical, not ideological. We think we offer an innovative, valid interpretation of the gospel before it gets turned into the kind of religion that divides people into insiders vs. outsiders, or righteous ones vs. unrighteous ones.
Not to change the subject or to let us off the hook, but I’ve been reading this massive novel called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This guy has got my neurons bouncing around. His writing and worldview is challenging, but what he says about our culture being so “sad” rings true for me, and it seems to apply. In an interview on his novel, he says,
Some of the sadness that infuses the culture right now has to do with a loss of purpose or organizing principles–something you’re willing to give yourself away to, basically. And the addictive impulse that is very much in the cultural air right now is interesting and powerful only because it’s an obvious distortion of a kind of religious impulse, or an impulse to be part of something bigger.
Wallace names something here we ourselves are trying to “name” in Parable. It feels that the post-Christian, consumer culture in western society has tended towards a kind of nihilism–a void of disconnectedness that incites fear of the other. Question: how in God’s name can we cultivate a culture that really connects with others for God’s sake?! What will it take to turn down the xenophobic chatter in God’s name in order to hear again the beauty of hospitable voices that welcome the other?
It seems to me that one of the scary things about the sort of nihilism in contemporary culture is that we’re really setting ourselves up for fascism. Because as we empty more and more of the kind of values and motivating principles, (spiritual principles almost), out of the culture, we’re creating a hunger that is going to drive us to the state where we may actually welcome fascism as the lesser of evils. Because the nice thing about fascists is that they will tell you what to do, what to think, what’s important, and we as a culture aren’t doing that for ourselves yet.
How scary indeed to live in snarky monocultures that can’t hear or trust the voices of different others! Frankly, on the Porch, we’d rather have creative, even messy diversity that struggles for understanding between others, than unity based on like-mindedness or compliance.
I may have lost you with the Wallace quotes, but this is what we’re trying to get at with Parable: How fine would it be to gather each week in the public square to celebrate our unique particularities and personal differences and to start engaging one another in the context of a shared communion? Let’s co-create this in the spirit of Jesus himself, the one who models so well what it means to engage the outside other, to welcome the stranger, to love the enemy. And let’s do it with real food and drink, great music, interesting people and ideas, and lots of joy and humor. Come and see! Join us if you can!
As I noted in a recent post, the dialogical approach to building community involves listening to the voices of different others–differences that enrich rather than divide. Yet, recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and elsewhere suggest that our fear of differences, our fear of the other, make the project to build community with different others very challenging, maybe even quixotic.
In “Looking White in the Face”, George Yancy observes that the question of racial identity and the task of engaging race has been taken up almost exclusively by nonwhite philosophers (NYT, July 2, 2015). He reasons, “My sense is that this is partly because whiteness is a site of privilege that makes it invisible to many white philosophers. I also think that some white philosophers would rather avoid thinking about how their own whiteness raises deeper philosophical questions about identity, power and hegemony, as this raises the question of personal responsibility.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, talks about this blindness to color and the sadness it stirs in his recent, “Letter to My Son” (The Atlantic, July 4, 2015). “I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.”
The inability to see color or white privilege weakens our best efforts to listen to the voices of racially different others. The profound fear of the other that many experience in our divisive climate turns community into collectives of like-mindedness that scapegoat difference and justify sameness in the name of law and order. This makes communion impossible. We need fresh ways for seeing how otherness is constitutive of unity, how otherness is absolute, how otherness is enriching, and how, therefore, communion does not threaten otherness—it generates and affirms it!
Krista Tippett’s recent interview with john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, thickens the soup by opening the question of race to the question of belonging (On Being, June 25, 2015). Race is relational, Powell reminds us: “Being human is about being in the right kind of relationships. I think being human is a process. It’s not something that we just are born with. We actually learn to celebrate our connection, learn to celebrate our love. If you suffer, it does not imply love. But if you love, it does imply suffering. To suffer with, though, compassion, not to suffer against. And if we can hold that space big enough, we also have joy and fun even as we suffer. And suffering will no longer divide us. And to me, that’s sort of the human journey.”
In fact, the Front Porch eschews the binary oppositions that sort others into easy categories and, instead, participates in the often-messy interactions and relationships that accept others on their own terms and lets others be who they uniquely are. See you on the Porch in all your unique otherness and glory!
As the Director of the Front Porch, who also happens to be an Episcopal priest, I’m often asked about the role of The Front Porch in relation to the Church. In fact, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Doyle, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, recently asked me that question! So, here are some of my recent thoughts in response to such questions:
While many of us in the church feel we have much to offer our secular world, including original and enriching ways of naming and dealing with the human condition, many people in Austin nonetheless find themselves in a post-religious, secular world that offers genuine significance, community and fulfillment apart from the church. For many, the role and purpose of faith and religion has gotten confused and become divisive more often than not.
In this new cultural situation, those of us in the church need to carry on with proclaiming the gospel in word and deed, but we need to do so in ways that foster conversation with others outside the church in singularly non-ideological ways through art, music, and a host of other means. Such engagement only deepens the meaning of our own traditions and draw out its resources, but it also builds mutual friendships with different people from other traditions. We have much to learn from each other!
Engaging in honest, open discourse that leads to mutual understanding in the public sphere is increasingly difficult. Our pluralistic, fast-paced, and ever-changing world demands that we be able to categorize each other instantly. Are you liberal or conservative? Are you religious, spiritual, or secular? Are you pro-this or pro-that? In such a climate, opposing sides risk losing their capacity to entertain the perspectives of different others to see how the other usually offers something important and worthwhile to consider. Our increasingly compartmentalized culture makes it difficult to form trusting relationships with other people who believe or live differently. What can we do? We can cultivate a culture of dialogue that promotes ways of interacting that lead to deeper understanding and even collaboration.
The Front Porch came into being, in part, as a response to this new situation. A front porch is the interface between the private world and the community, where friends and strangers alike make time over a cup of coffee or glass of beer to visit and get to know each other. According to Claude Stephens, founder of the Professional Porch Sitters Union, front porches dropped in popularity in the mid-1900s when radio, TV, and automobiles wooed people away. But they’re making a comeback! —63 percent of single-family homes built in the U.S. in 2013 had porches, up from 42 percent in 1993. The front porch is “a way of thinking about the world,” Stephens says. “We use it as a verb: ‘Would you like to come over and do a little porching?’”
As our metaphor, The Front Porch promotes a dialogical way of thinking about the church’s mission that invites people to sit and talk on “the porches” that exist outside the church in the secularized public square. We do this in a number of ways. By skillfully curating programs in festive space in which dialogue, art, and hospitable community happens, the Front Porch offers a practical solution for a widespread malaise wrought by too much isolation and fear and suspicion of the other. We’ve built bridges with those in the creative culture of Austin—those passionately involved in making art, music, gardens, governmental policies, etc. We’ve gathered in multiple venues—restaurants, pubs, churches, non-profit spaces, avant-garde theatres, and front lawns. Since becoming an official mission of the Episcopal Church in 2009, we have been developing this particular practice of hospitality through events we’ve hosted with hundreds of friends and partners ever since.
As a lifelong Episcopalian, I love the Episcopal Church for its well-known via media. This is the theological framework for interpreting God’s presence in the world that provides a deep grounding in the biblical tradition, while also welcoming a wide range of perspectives and practices. The idea and practice of the Front Porch fits perfectly with this approach. In fact, this ministry emerged out of my life and ministry as a priest within the Church, a vocation that has enabled me to engage and connect with all kinds of people in all walks of life. The Latin root of priest as pontifex—one who makes or builds bridges—is meaningful to me as a calling to be open and welcoming to all others.
I now want to go a little deeper and say a few more things about some of the inspiration behind our approach. First of all, our strategy for transformation should be seen as a model for building community and facilitating dialogue in ways that address what we see as the urgent human need for both transcendence and communion. As the late artist and politician Vaclav Havel once put it, “Without an experience of transcendence in the broadest sense of the word, we tend to slide into a frenzied consumerism, a profound crisis of authority, and a demoralizing and destructive spirit.” Without transcendence, there can be no communion.
In the language of our tradition, Christ connects with people across their cultural and religious boundaries through dialogical interaction, not ideological agreement. The idea and practice of dialogue is key; in fact, we believe that the Word, or Logos, became flesh and dwelt among us. We also believe that in and through dialogue (cf., dia–logos), the Word continues to be enfleshed between us.
The apostle Paul built bridges between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish residents of the Greco-Roman culture to connect people to Christ in a way that transcended their religious boundaries. Many of those who lived outside the Jewish religious framework were called “god-wonderers” because, like Jews, they sensed a transcendent dimension of life that called for reverence and ethical living. However, they never sought to become religiously Jewish through circumcision—and Paul and those early followers of the way of Christ never insisted they do so.
As a result, many god-wonderers found they were welcomed into a diverse communion of spiritually alive people that included Jews and Greeks, men and women, free citizens and slaves, rich and poor. The gospel of Christ became a bridge that brought a divided humanity together not by assimilating others to a dominant ideology but by setting unique and different individuals free to be who they were through the revelation of love as expressed in the life and death of Christ and brought into being by the Spirit.
The Front Porch provides innovative means for connecting to and partnering with Christ and, through the Spirit of Christ, the many different, caring, and creative god-wonderers of our time who don’t necessarily seek to become Christian. The way of Jesus himself—and how he emptied himself to create space for others—revealed an enjoyment of the other that brought people together in non-defensive ways. This is our model, and we’ve found that when we approach others in this way, the risen Christ continues to emerge through unexpected people in unexpected places and ways.
The dialogical approach to building community involves listening to the voices of different others–differences that enrich rather than divide. We practice an attitude to generating communion that is constituted not by sameness but by otherness and difference. Just as the apostle Paul welcomed different others (i.e., Gentiles) into the community of persons in Christ without insisting they be circumcised into traditional Jewish religion, nor does The Front Porch insist non-Christians become Christian or join the church.
This is difficult, challenging work that is easily misunderstood as too religious on one hand or too liberal on the other. Those outside the church, at least those who have become allergic to God-talk of any kind, are tempted to imagine that the Front Porch is a “bait and switch” operation that uses winsome, hip ways to lure and assimilate.
Yet some within the church, especially folks with a more ideological, less dialogical bent suspect that the Front Porch has compromised or soft-pedaled the gospel truth in order to promote “anything goes” relativism. In fact, the Front Porch eschews the binary oppositions that sort others into easy categories and, instead, participates in the often-messy interactions and relationships that accept others on their own terms and lets others be who they uniquely are.
This is tricky. A focus on communion without otherness devolves into a collective of the likeminded. Yet otherness without communion yields fragmented individualism. We believe, however, that at the heart of our mission is nothing less than the deeply Christian idea of the Trinity. As the distinguished theologian John Zizioulas argues, “There is no model for the proper relation between communion and otherness either for the Church or for the human being other than the Trinitarian God.” This is not the place to develop in detail how Trinitarian theology informs our practice, but we do think that theological thinking about the Trinity over the past few decades offers the church some very exciting ways to build bridges to the post-Christian culture. In a nutshell, by mirroring the communion and otherness that exists in the triune God, we have a fresh way of seeing how otherness is constitutive of unity, how otherness is absolute, how otherness is ontological, and how, therefore, communion does not threaten otherness—it generates and affirms it!
While the Front Porch has made great strides over the past few years, it remains a vulnerable little mustard seed that needs lots of encouragement and support to become a sustainable missional community that can make the world a more loving, compassionate place. In the meantime, we will continue to use the discipline of the Episcopal tradition to engage people of a variety of religious and secular beliefs in conversations that foster intelligent caring and outreach to neighbors in need!
Some of you may know me, and I’m sure many of you do not, but my name is Riley Webb, and I’ve been working on The Front Porch since July 2014.
Growing up the son of educators in unique Fredericksburg, Texas, I was formed in a close-knit community that placed unique emphases on art and storytelling, and found early in life passions for acting, reading, writing, and playing music. I followed these same passions for storytelling, art and the human connection to Southwestern University, where I enrolled as an English major in 2009.
Out of the Fredericksburg bubble, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Foucault, and hundreds of others opened up a world of ideas. Chipping away at my somewhat provincial perspective, I began to explore the nature of chance human interaction and how agency depends on the dialogues we engage with those around us. This idea—that community is shaped through conversation— opened up my outlook at Southwestern, and gave me the freedom to enter more confidently the world of difference. My undergraduate thesis explored how improvisation in jazz music builds dialogically-based community amongst musicians and audiences, and these ideas about the significance of simple interactions between people continued to occupy my mind as I prepared for life after college.
By the time I graduated, life had become more mysterious. Hungry for things spiritual and intellectual, I moved to Austin with no real plan. I followed my gut and sniffed out a job as a Segway tour guide. This gig of gliding through Austin with strangers-in-tow provides me with endless chances to explore my love of human interaction. But soon, just a year into my life as a Segway man, I was pleasantly interrupted with an opportunity to work on The Front Porch, and I’ve been here ever since.
It’s both fun and stimulating to hang out on The Front Porch and engage so many creative, interesting people on a daily basis. This world that welcomes otherness and celebrates difference inherently allows for constructive community through those same defining features. I am so grateful for the opportunity given me by Steve, our amazing Board of Directors, and all of you who play a role in this inspiring nonprofit. And the message of God’s mysterious role in our ability to impact one anothers’ perceptions through dialogue intrigues me. That’s what keeps me coming back every day for more!
I look forward to getting to know so many new faces as we all sit together on The Front Porch and learn from new perspectives. Don’t be shy if you see me around– introduce yourself! I hope to see you all soon!
Just over a week ago, Front Porchers had the chance to once again host Sam Baker in our Unplugged on The Front Porch listening room.
If you want to relive the action, or you missed the amazing conversation between Steve and Sam that night, check out this marvelous write-up from Elizabeth Williams. One of many behind-the-scenes maestros who help make Unplugged a reality each and every month, Liz has conjured up a brand new aesthetic for our special concert series via this brand new website. We’re so thankful to have her on our team! Also, if you haven’t liked Unplugged’s separate facebook page yet, please do so right now! It’s the best way to receive updates about upcoming events in our special listening room. And don’t miss Eliza Gilkyson on April 30th, our only Unplugged this season that WON’T take place on a third Thursday!
We’re so thankful for all of you, Front Porchers. See you soon!
Ahoy, Front Porchers!
If you’ve been around The Front Porch at all these past few weeks, chances are you’ve witnessed some pretty spectacular stuff. In January, we met Michael Morton, who showed us his take on humanity and forgiveness. Christine Albert and Pittman McGehee have joined us for Parable, and Sam Baker will be on our Unplugged stage on March 19th, the next in a long line of Austin’s best musicians and storytellers. As we continue to host incredible conversations in the heart of Austin, we feel so privileged and honored by the support given us by our friends and fellow dialogue-seekers in order to follow our mission. None of this would be possible without the support of all of you.
At the end of this week, Amplify Austin will challenge the people of Austin to pour $7,000,000 into local nonprofits, all in just one 24-hour period. Over 500 nonprofits are expected to participate, and we will be just one in a multitude of incredible stories found on Amplify’s webpage. The giving will start at 6:00 PM on Thursday, March 5th, and continue until 6:00 PM on Friday, March 6th. Last year, Amplify Austin was able to raise over $8.5 million dollars for Austin-area nonprofits. If you can, please support The Front Porch at our Amplify page and help contribute on this day of astounding generosity in our Austin community.
In order to celebrate and raise awareness for Amplify Austin, The Front Porch will be hosting an Ampify Watch Party. Teaming up with and featuring another local nonprofit, Truth Be Told, who help out incarcerated women, The Front Porch will host a gathering with conversation, food, drink, and local press, in order to get folks excited about giving this Amplify weekend. The event will take place in Kinsolving Parish Hall at All Saints’ from 5:30 – 8:30 PM on Thursday, March 5th. Please join us, enjoy the free meal, and help join in the celebration.
Again, we are so thankful for the enduring support of all of our Front Porch friends and family. What a gift it is for us to spend our days planning conversations, concerts, pub-churches, lectures, film screenings, and more. We hope we’ll see you on The Front Porch soon!
WE THANK CHRISTINE HAVENS FOR THIS POST ON PARABLE, OUR MONTHLY PUB CHURCH AT SCHOLZ GARTEN.
Writing, especially poetry and theology, resides deep in my soul. It makes me ache—words make me ache. The finitude and infinitude of language, and the power of that paradox make me ache. Speaking for myself, then, I felt discomfited as our guest seemed to dismiss those things that are much of my lifeblood—poësis and metaphor. And apparently, I was not the only one wondering about God and suffering in Benedikt’s solution to “traditional theology’s problematic issues of theodicy and omniscience.”
To backtrack, our guest for Parable in January was Michael Benedikt, a professor of architecture at the University of Texas. Benedikt wrote a provocative book called God is the Good We Do: Theology of Theopraxy. Theopraxy is Michael Benedikt’s word, meaning God is practiced or performed—God is summoned into being by the practice. He described God as a certain pattern of action—action performed by humans. Benedikt, too, professes fascination with poetry and metaphor, understanding metaphor as poësis (a Greek word meaning production, composition) rather than science. For Benedikt, what ultimately matters is how one carries oneself in the world, not the metaphor. God is good, and only good, and we bring God into being only when we perform good acts.
My discomfort was ameliorated by John Burnett’s comment about how freeing it is to think about God in new ways, but yet not fully agreeing with Benedikt—that his argument limits God, a thought running itself over and over in my head as our guest spoke—gets to the very heart of the evening’s conversation. Benedikt’s parents experienced the Holocaust—surviving barely imaginable suffering. But where is God within that suffering? Is God in suffering? And can our words truly limit God? Is it we who bring God into being when we perform good? Are we imago dei or is God imago hominus?
It’s now a month later, and I hope that it is apparent in my writing that I am still turning this over in my mind, still aching, considering words and action. Humans are creatures of action, of participation, and part of that participation comes in the form of language, of words. And so I invite you to Parable, to be pleasantly and discomfortably stretched in a safe space.
If you were worried that you wouldn’t get a second chance to listen to Pittman McGehee’s incredible words of wisdom from our Parable event on February 8th, fear no more! Here’s the whole thing for you to listen to! Don’t forget that there are still at least two more chances to hear Pittman talk on The Front Porch. Join us the second and fourth Sundays in March at 5:30 PM at Scholz Garten for more of Pittman McGehee’s unique and amazing insight!