Here’s the deal with the Indiegogo Campaign

The Front Porch wants to make a positive difference in Austin. How? By showcasing beautiful people and giving voice to inspiring ideas, by hosting interesting conversations that bring people together to talk across their divides, and–with your support–by creating a pub, cafe, and event space in Austin that enables us to do this every day of the week. This would be like a postmodern church in the public square for secular people who don’t like to be boxed in by dogma or like-mindedness. This would be a gospel-happening in a pluralistic culture to engage people of every religious, political, or cultural persuasion. As we like to say, our differences must become enriching rather than dividing. This is not some sort of utopian idealism or sloppy inclusivism–frankly, it takes lots of love to welcome different perspectives and others to the table for dialogical engagement.

So far, we’ve built a good-enough brand that enables us to connect with lots of interesting people–kind of a blank check that gives us credibility and access. Our vision for providing a model to engage different people in dialogue in a way that builds community (usually one conversation at a time) is catching on. And our track record to date is at least impressive: we’ve got a monthly pub church that packs Scholz Garten each month, a packed concert series every third Thursday of the month that brings great Austin artists to life, a signature quarterly symposia that focuses attention on matters that affect all of us, and a newly created youth gathering that we are very excited about.

BUT…we’ve got to take this mission to the next level! We need to broaden our grass-roots support. We need to expand our staff. We need to develop better infrastructure–i.e., a more sophisticated approach to getting the word out and producing our numerous events. And we need to raise some dough. The point is this: we’re getting close! We have so much to build upon! We’re getting traction!

Can you see such a place in Austin? Will you help us build it? If you want to dip your toe in our waters, please go to this link and make a contribution to our Indiegogo campaign! We are trying to raise $30,000 in 50 days to keep our programming alive and well until we can reach the critical mass that pushes us to build the space itself.

Torn Between Pride and Despair

balance-canstockphoto3567006The great 20th century philosopher Hanna Arendt wrote a famous book entitled The Human Condition. You may have read it in college. Philosophers, theologians, and essayists of all sorts make mention of “the human condition” from time to time. It can sound pretentious when we talk about it at a cocktail party, and maybe it is, sometimes. But it is an idea we can’t get along without: all of us and every society presuppose some background picture of the human condition within which we struggle toward goals or make our peace with failures and limits, one way or another.

Raising it to awareness is where things get really interesting, so far as the examined life is concerned. Most writers on the subject seem to agree that the main feature of the human condition is finitude. Finitude refers not just to human limitations but to human possibilities, as well. Being finite, as the Greeks put it, means being a little higher than the animals but less than gods–being bound to embrace those aspirations we care about, and yet also remembering our mortality, the limits of our knowledge and wisdom, inescapable suffering of some sort, and death. Another way to put it is that we are saddled with the difficult task of finding a middle path between hubris and despair.

Here is story that might help bring to life these abstract notions of finitude and the human condition. Stories have a way of doing that!

On his 55th birthday, he felt the walls starting to close in on him. Nate was a sociology professor with tenure at a state university. He had published enough articles to get promoted, received periodic raises, and had job security with a satisfactory retirement program in the works. He had edited a volume of essays in his specialty area and had co-authored an introduction to sociology book that got a few nice reviews but only sold a few thousand copies and now seemed to have disappeared into the dustbin of history. He received good teacher evaluations and got along well with his little group of Master’s and Ph.D. graduate student advisees.

 He had survived and was well liked, but suddenly felt like a failure and a nobody. He now realized he would never reach his youthful ambition to become a leader in his field speaking to the sociological issues of the day. He would never be that scholar with a mention or article in the New York Times. Not that Nate didn’t know exactly what that looked like. Two of his colleagues had achieved that kind of prominence and notoriety. One had written a best-selling sociological treatise on “cultures of poverty” and had appeared on several national political talk shows. Nate could see the lift in his colleague’s step around the office; he could only swallow and try to hide a growing sense of insignificance and ignominy. He once caught himself flirting mildly with the colleague’s wife at a department social event. No one noticed, and he went home feeling pitiful.

 Nate also found himself living with a low-grade jealousy of his only brother, a Washington D.C. attorney who had achieved both considerable financial success and the attention of politicians and socialites. He loved his brother, but this envy chipped away at their relationship and widened a gap between them. One night, however, after his brother got broadsided by someone barreling through a stop sign, things were put back into some perspective. The car was totaled after tumbling into a ditch where it turned over twice and ended upside down. His brother survived with only a couple of bruises.

 They talked about it on the phone the next day. His brother remarked that instead of relief he felt gloomy and depressed. The accident brought it home how everyone’s life hangs on a thread and could be snuffed out in a moment. That is a disturbing thought, his brother said–it makes you wonder what life is all about. Both boxing fans, they recalled Mohammed Ali’s comment after being struck with Parkinson’s disease: “We’re all just flies in a room.” And, you could be swatted at any moment! They shared a bitter laugh, commiserated for a while, and said goodbye.

 The conversation darkened Nate, already at a low point. In a sleepless night, he thought, “Man oh man. I’m a failed hack academic and now I have my nose rubbed in my insignificant little life–a speck of light in the dark, soon to go out.” He flashed on the idea that everyone was in the same boat, winners and losers alike. He imagined most of his friends and acquaintances came to the same realization from time to time. But that didn’t make him feel any better.

 Nate had a son in college with whom he got along well. They had many common interests and enjoyed talking sports and politics. He did not feel as close to his daughter, a senior in high school. She had been standoffish and minimally communicative for several years. Until recently she’d hung out with a boy from school he really didn’t like, though Nate bit his tongue, wisely he thought. The guy was a “C” student with a bright red streak in his hair. He dressed shoddily and was rumored to sell dope to other students. His daughter had been the apple of his eye as a young child, and he earnestly hoped for a better relationship with her someday.

 The day after talking with his brother, Nate was sitting alone on the couch in his study at home, staring at the wall. His daughter walked by, looked in, paused in the doorway, and said to him, “My God, Dad, what’s wrong! I don’t think I have ever seen you look so grim.” He was a little shocked to hear himself blurt: “Oh, not too much, I’m just sitting here contemplating my mediocre career and cosmic insignificance, about which I can do not a cotton-picking thing. That’s about it.”

 To his surprise, his daughter sat down and put her arm around him. She said, “You know, I’ve just been thinking how much I admire you, Dad. I’ve been meaning to say that to you.” “Well, that’s really nice,” Nate replied. She went on, “I really appreciate you being so tolerant of my hanging out with Jerry the Jerk for a while. I’m lucky that I didn’t get into trouble. I don’t know what the hell I was rebelling against. But I know I got over it more quickly because of your patience with me. You know, you really are a good guy. You are kind and steady, you don’t brag or complain very much. You’re great with your grad students, and I know they appreciate it. You always try to be honest. You’re a great Dad.” “I don’t know,” said Nate.

 “Listen!” his daughter said. “You don’t realize. A lot of my friends don’t have anyone like you to rely on. Some have to fend off uncles and even fathers who hit on them. Don’t take yourself for granted. You should be proud of yourself. I doubt I’ll ever get a Ph.D. in sociology, but I do think I’ll know how to be a really good parent someday. That means a lot to me.” They both began to weep a little and just sat there quietly for a minute, in a hug.

 Later that day, Nate thought he could see a number of times in his life when, if he had it do over, he would choose a different path. There was a lot he did not know then and the future was always cloudy. He and his colleagues sometimes joked about publishing articles to be read by a dozen or two people in the English speaking world. Maybe I should have gone into agricultural economics and helped do something about hunger around the world, he thought. But there is no way to know if that would have worked out any better. And now, of course, his options were few and getting fewer. But today, after the conversation with his daughter, he felt less trapped, with less regret. He just felt like he had, well, a life, the smallness and limitations of which he wasn’t sure mattered that much. Anyway, he thought, just what do limitations and insignificance mean when everyone is plagued by them? Obviously, he reflected, a lot of us are fuzzy, at best, about what makes for a significant life.

One of the conditions of our common humanity is the fact of finitude. We learn to live within our limits lest we fall into a self-destructive hubris. On The Front Porch, we like to think that such human limitation can be a plus, especially when we’re trying to learn from one another in dialogue. For those who imagine they have a “bird’s-eye view” of things, whether through religion or science, dialogue is tedious and cumbersome. For the rest of us, dialogue—the back and forthness of call and response—grows community, one conversation at a time.   –FR

Monday, July 28th

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy birthday to the Kennewick Man; it’s either his eighteenth or his nine thousand seven hundredth-ish, depending on how you look at it. Anyways, thanks to everyone who came out to Parable last week to hear Evan Smith and John Burnett’s conversation. We sure enjoyed it, and we hope yall did too, even with the crowds. We’re doing it again next month with screenwriter, actor, and generally awesome guy Turk Pipkin.

But what else is happening on the Front Porch? Well might you ask. We’re continuing our evaluation of all of our programs over the past year. We’ve got big changes planned for Unplugged, Parable, and Elephant in the Room. We’re not striking out in an entirely new direction, but we’re adjusting our sails and testing the wind to see where we can go next.

On a more personal note, my time at the Front Porch is nearly spent. After joining on as an intern last August, I became a full-time employee in October. Starting on the first of August, I’ll step down as the Project Manager and instead work for the Porch as a contractor. As the Front Porch tessellates into ever more fascinating iterations, it’s become increasingly clear to Steve and to me that it’s time for me to step back. I’ve really enjoyed building this project and interacting with all you lovely people, and I can’t wait to see how all of our work on the Porch turns out. So thanks, everyone, for helping me over this past year, and here’s to an ever-expanding and improving Front Porch.

Monday, July 21st

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy 115th birthday to Hart Crane and Ernest Hemingway. While it’s pretty astonishing that two of the modernist movement’s greatest writers were born on the same day, it’s not so surprising that a lot of you made it to Parable yesterday (how’s that for a segue?), where we heard real wisdom about hope and despair from Evan Smith; check out TWC News’ video for one of many viewpoints. Don’t forget that Parable is on for next month with Turk Pipkin, too.

We’ve also got some big news here on the Porch, but I’m under strict orders not to disclose it. Suffice it to say that, after a semi-aestivation in which we’ve entered a cocoon of self-examination and planning, we’re getting closer and closer to emerging and spreading our wings as something a little bit different. Stick around, and stay attuned to metamorphosis, both in the Front Porch and in the universe at large.

Monday, July 14th

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy Bastille Day. To celebrate the breaking open, both literally and figuratively, of an oppressive French regime, we’ve schedule a very appropriate Parable. Come by Opal Divine’s Penn Field to hear Evan Smith, journalist extraordinaire and founder of the non-partisan Texas Tribune, interviewed by NPR’s incomparable John Burnett. Our own Rev. Dr. Steve Kinney will celebrate the non-denominational service, and Dave Madden will curate the live music.

It’s also the two hundred and twenty-fourth anniversary of the Priestley Riots, in which a mob burned Joseph Priestley’s Birmingham home to the ground. Priestley was one of England’s great polymaths: he discovered oxygen (which he called “dephlogistated air”); his grapplings with various metaphysical quandaries, notably the unification of science and religion, greatly influenced utilitarianism; he wrote over a hundred and fifty works, including a seminal book on English grammar; he was a Dissenting (or non-Church of England) clergyman; and he was a supporter of toleration of religious and political dissent. As an outspoken supporter of the French revolution, he was targeted by a mob, whipped up by political opponents, which burned down his house and forced him to flee to London. His persecution didn’t end, and he eventually emigrated to Pennsylvania. As one of the true spiritual forbears to the Front Porch, he attempted to synthesize science, spirituality, and everyday life with a spirit of toleration and open communication. While we generally remember July 14th as Bastille Day, a day for freedom and celebration, let’s not forget that just a year later, it led to paranoia, arson, and terror for one of England’s most distinguished thinkers.

Monday, July 7th

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy canonization day of Mother Frances Cabrini, the first American citizen to achieve Catholic sainthood. Just as canonization is a public recognition of service, we’ve been recognized too, although in a slightly different way: check out Patrick Beach’s article about Parable in the Austin-American Statesman. And hey, why not swing by on Sunday the 28th for the next round of Parable, this time with the redoubtable Evan Smith? Just think of how great it’ll be to say that you were into Parable before it got popular.

Monday, June 30th

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy Theobald of Provins Day. In honor of Theobald’s collectivist spirit, we’d like to share with you our new online home. Thanks to Clint “Happy” Hagen at A Third Way, we have a spiffy new website. Come on in, look around, and tell us what you think. And hey, mark your calendars now for Parable on July 20th; it’s going to be the indefatigable Evan Smith talking with John Burnett.

Monday, June 9th

Happy Monday, Front Porchers. First off, a big thank you to Kirk Watson, John Burnett, Dave Madden, Opal Divine’s Penn Field, and everyone who came out for Parable yesterday. We sure enjoyed singing, worshipping, and just hanging out with you. Let’s do it again some time.

As we’ve mentioned before in this space, the Front Porch is fixing to enter a summer-long transition period. We’re going to take a long, hard look at what we’re doing, and we’re going to figure out how to do it better, to emerge from our pupation as a fully-developed organism. If you’d like to be a part of this process, email us, call us, or drop by the office. Or email us, call us, or drop by the office if you just want to talk about Mikhail Bakhtin’s influence on Claude Lévi-Strauss or something.

Today is the sixty-eighth birthday of Deyda Hydara. The Gambian journalist founded the independent newspaper The Point, which was frequently critical of the Gambia’s hostile media environment. His tireless work in exposing government corruption was cut short ten years ago. He was murdered by an unknown gunman while driving home from work. His murder remains unsolved, although whispers persist that the Gambian government was behind the assassination. It’s people like Deyda Hydara, who improve their communities so much with so little recognition from the world at large, who inspire the Front Porch’s mission. We hope that our efforts to root out the darkness of ignorance bear fruit and inspire others to stand together, despite their differences.

Why I Front Porch: Michelle Carlson

Are you looking for more reasons to be a part of the Front Porch? Board member Michelle Carlson has you covered.

“I think a culture is at its healthiest when its people are highly engaged with one another in friendships, businesses, worship, neighborhoods, politics, etc. Investing in these relationships in a respectful manner – equally listening to and sharing ideas – it provides more opportunity for social growth and maturation. Adding an artistic element to the experience intrinsically deepens the dimensions to consider. The Front Porch is an incubator for all of this – it brings together people, dialogue and art in a respectful environment and gives rise to conversation that transcends our daily boundaries. I’m all over that…”

Monday, June 2nd

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy two hundred and seventy-third birthday to Martha Washington. To commemorate such a momentous occasion (or really, because it’s a serendipitous occurrence), Kirk Watson is going to be our guest preacher at Parable this Sunday. This is a pretty cool thing, since we’ll get to hear about how he’s maintained his faith through a battle with cancer, various political offices, and family life.

It’s also Freddy Adu’s birthday today. Some of you–specifically, those who are hopeless sports trivia nerds, which is me–might remember him. He sprang fully-formed from the head of the American soccer consciousness, it seemed, rather than being born and raised by humans. He signed a contract with the professional team DC United when he was fourteen. Destined to be the US’s greatest ever player, he was dubbed “the next Pelé” and feted as the man to lead the stars and stripes to World Cup glory. Over the next several years, he bounced around teams in the US, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, and England.

There is a lot of despair in the story of Freddy Adu: the early promise unrealized, the failure of the anointed messiah, the apathy towards his slide into irrelevance. He’s not contracted to a team now, and seems likely to fade away to whatever hidden realm our deities enter when they’ve been ground down and used up. He’s too old, washed up, a has-been. Today, he turns twenty-five.

I don’t know if this story is about the burden we placed on a kid that he ultimately couldn’t bear. I don’t know if it’s about some kind of twisted American dream. I do know that it’s about treating people as if they are something not human. I do know that this story is about us, which is bad, because a person’s story should be about that person.