Porch Time in November

Back in the days before Google conquered the earth and enslaved its people, families would sit on their front porches in the evenings and discuss the news of the day. Wandering neighbors and strangers would join those conversations and the strangers became new friends.

The internet keeps us connected 24/7. But are Facebook updates and 140-character tweets really an acceptable replacement for face-to-face conversation?

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist who lived from 1901 to 1978. She authored 20 books, received 28 honorary doctorates and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Margaret valued and loved her front porch days, saying, “No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology… We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology.”

Our Front Porch Project may be an impossible dream in these painfully divided times, but when you learn to “think globally yet act locally,” we trust the value of human connection in the stormy sea of technology and strive to provide gathering places where ideas are exchanged, conversations begin and friendships blossom–the kind of place where Margaret Mead and James Michener and Stevie Ray Vaughn would come.

Margaret Mead left us this word of encouragement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Join a conversation, attend a Front Porch event, volunteer some time or make a tax-deductible donation to keep The Front Porch in the here and now.

I want to call your attention to five important events in November:

  1. November 12Logos Collective with Nick Courtright and Kimbol Soques @ Lazarus Brewing, 7:15
  2. Pub Church at Scholz Garten on November 17th (5:30-7pm) with Dr. Kristin Neff and musician Wendy Colonna. Dr. Neff is at the forefront of the “self-compassion” movement, an approach towards self-development that goes way beyond self-esteem: it’s a way of understanding self and others that has been adopted by world leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Brene Brown. Wendy is one of Austin’s most popular troubadours, with her swampy, Cajun soul.
  3. Bailey Lectures: November 21, 23-24. This year’s Bailey offers perhaps the finest cultural thought leader we have ever hosted—Dr. Steven Shankman! See details in this newsletter.
  4. November 24—Interfaith Action of Central Texas (IACT) annual day of thanksgiving @ Riverbend, 3pm. This is hosted by the great Hindu community.

It’s Time to Get Back on the Porch!

It’s time to get talking on the Front Porch again

While we’re still grieving the loss of our dear friend and Front Porch associate, Riley Jackson Webb, we’re confident that Riley would LOVE our upcoming fall season. And so…the Front Porch is proud and excited to announce the return of Pub Church at Scholz Garten on October 6th! It will be so fine to be back together with the beloved community–those curious, open, and eager to reconnect through art, music, questioning, and communion with so many different others!

On October 6th, we’re hosting Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather renown to talk about his life quest as a human being through the perennial wisdom of China, particularly the I Ching Book of Changes. Robert has written and will play some amazing songs that interpret this uncanny wisdom in a way that will excite and inspire new ways of thinking about our quest to partner with God and each other for common good, across all the usual divides.

This inaugural Pub Church reunion launches us into the fall season! And it’s a great season with some amazing people who will inspire us to engage in conversation and dialogue about living more loving lives. Here is the line-up for the rest of October (check details in our Calendar):

+ October 13: Pub Church with theologian Tony Baker with Dave Madden

+ October 20: Unplugged on Front Porch concert with Carrie Newcomer

On any good front porch worth its salt, a spirit of compassion, humor, openness, and honesty prevails. These are the conditions for the kind of dialogue that builds community and inspires friendships across our cultural, political, and religious differences. Yet traditional front porches in our culture are disappearing. Our apps and social media remind us only of our own beliefs and allow us to ignore or dismiss those of the other. That’s what we’re up against. Let’s ditch our screens and start the edifying conversations. Hope to see you on the porch!

Practical Hope for Widespread Malaise

Dear Friends and Partners of The Front Porch,

I’ve been watching the documentary, “World War 2: The Price of Empire.” As a student of this war, with a Dad who participated in it, WW2 has always been a terrible, but romanticized part of the fabric of my life. But through this 2015 documentary, I now find myself waking up to the horrifying fact that an estimated 70-85 million people perished in under a decade through a contagion of violence and genocide that put  the whole world under a spell of hatred and fear. It was all out: everyone had to take sides, demonize the other side, and literally fight to the death; there was no in-between.

The older I get, the more it seems that World War 2 was not that long ago. And it really happened. Those of us born into the relative security of the post-war United States can not imagine the magnitude and grief of such a war. Yet there is something in the narration of this particular series that has me thinking it could happen again. I see how the first step–demonizing others–can happen rather easily. Entrenchment follows.  I see anew how vulnerable we are and how tenuous life on the planet can be.

It now feels like there is a widespread malaise. Young people especially are feeling more stress and anxiety over climate changes. The political climate is crazy making. People are on edge. Shooters show up randomly and kill people in public places.

Lest we get overwhelmed and give fear too much attention, let’s dial it back and look for practical hope: the kind of hope, for example, that finds ways to team up with others to better protect the earth’s lungs, the rainforests; the kind of hope that comes from treating other people–especially people who look or believe differently from ourselves–with more compassion and care; or the kind of hope that emerges from the simple human connections that can follow from good music, art, or table fellowship.

By hosting programs and events in festive spaces, The Front Porch strives to offer a practical solution for the malaise wrought by too much isolation and fear and suspicion of the other. 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 keep trying to cultivate a culture of dialogue and respect that promotes ways of interacting that lead to understanding, acceptance, and friendly collaboration!

Hope to see you soon on the Porch!
Stephen 
Hiroshima in 1945 (above). Hiroshima in 2019 (below)

Summer 2019: Dedicated to Bringing People into Communion through Art, Music, and Open-Hearted Conversations!

Stephen Kinney @Unplugged on The Front Porch with Sam Baker

Dear Front Porch Family,

As many of you know, my dear colleague and friend on The Front Porch, Riley Jackson Webb, died in mid-May. The past two weeks without him have been surreal and grievous, though it has been beautiful to see how Riley touched so many of us during his time with us on The Front Porch from 2014-2018. His Resurrection Party on June 1st was filled with Spirit, Beauty, and Love.

Given the fact that we didn’t know if The Front Porch was going to survive beyond this past December, our rebirth in January has been extraordinary! It has the makings of a great story, a story of grace and adventure. While we’ve had to dial some things back and are currently operating The Front Porch on a part-time basis, we’ve been able to do so much in such a short time! More than that, we’ve been able to go a little deeper and our platform continues to give us access to so many amazing and diverse people in the Austin community. Call it luck, but it’s hard not to feel it as blessing.

Moving back to Scholz Garten on Sunday evenings was energizing and we’ve had robust attendance for each of our Public House Churches, aka, Pub Church! Getting to do a 3-week deep dive with artist/musician/trickster Sam Baker was a huge gift to all. Getting to know Rabbi Neil Blumofe more personally over a couple of weeks was fun and deep. We had an especially rich time with Muna Hussaini—her conversation with John Burnett and the short documentary based on a hate crime she experienced after 9-11 made us more compassionate to the plight of the stereotyped and stigmatized. The past three pub churches have focused on immigration, as we’ve discussed the displacement of millions of people all over the planet for political, religious, economic, and climate related reasons. Thanks to guests and musicians like Glenn Smith, Dave Madden, Gavin Rogers, Bekah McNeel, Tish Hinojosa, and Aimee Bobruk, we’ve been able to face the dilemma between security and humanity and to empathize and ask more questions about how we might respond to all refugees in kindness and love.

Over the past four months, we hosted, sponsored, or participated in so many beautiful community gatherings. We hosted five contemplative communion services during Lent that reenacted the festive meals of the 1st century. We were key partners in the New Story Festival that drew over 1000 people from all over Austin at Huston-Tillotson in March. We supported the Interfaith Action of Central Texas’ HOPE Awards. We hosted an Iftar Dinner with our Muslim friends from The Dialogue Institute near the beginning of Ramadan for over 100 people.  We also lead a weekly men’s group and are in the midst of developing a Front Porch type community with college students. 

Perhaps our proudest and most transcendent happening over this spring was the 4th Annual Easter Vigil.  There were about 400 adventurous souls from all over Austin, who gathered for the Vigil at the legendary Sam’s Town Point under the oak trees on their outdoor stage. Our gathering was a sacrament of creativity and love—we went from a bonfire to a Lakota Sioux prayer, to a New Orleans’ Second-Line dirge, to Biblical stories, to a slam poem on creation, to original songs from the Shinyribs’ savant, Kevin Russell, to a “Down by the Riverside” procession with seven Episcopal priests following and sprinkling the congregation from buckets of water, to a communion for all with 10 loaves of sourdough bread.

As we wrap up yet another season of incredible experiences on the Porch, I remain so grateful to all of you for continuing to support our vision year after year. As we near twenty years of Front Porch conversations over dozens of iterations, it is truly amazing that we continue to endure, to come together, to evolve, to grow, to dream a wider spiritual existence together through open dialogue, music, art, history, philosophy, theology, and so much more. The fact that we continue to adapt and grow shows that our message is resonating: that there are many here in Austin ready to come together to celebrate the gifts that each and every person and perspective brings “to the table.”

Over the summer, I will be participating in Sunday services, planning for a new season of porch programs, collaborating with the new missioner for the Episcopal Students’ Center at All Saints’, Rev. Dr. Travis Helms and his missional community, The Logos Collective. Finally, this September, Gwen and I will be joining one of the Front Porch’s originators, The Rev. Jimmy Bartz and his family, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for three weeks to serve as the guest chaplain of the Yellowstone Chapel.
As I begin looking forward to yet another season on the Porch–talks about a next edition of Unplugged on the Front Porch with Carrie Newcomer are already in the works for October, as well as the usual pub church planning–I’ve also decided to try and do some written reflections on the Front Porch in order to spread our message further, and I am still working on the editing of a book that Riley and I were working on together over the past two years—a book written by a mentor, Rev. Sherman Beattie, whose ideas have informed the Front Porch since its inception. 

Gratefully yours, Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, PhD

Keep going, Riley!

Riley’s Obituary; Resurrection Party this Saturday

Riley Jackson Webb, October 4, 1990-May 16, 2019

Riley Jackson Webb passed away suddenly on May 16, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio, after suffering from complications of undiagnosed congenital heart disease. Riley was 28 years old. He was born on October 4, 1990, in Jackson, Wyoming, but his family moved to Texas before his first birthday. Riley spent most of his youth in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Riley grew up the only child of Kevan and Donna Webb, and he was formed in a close-knit community that placed unique emphasis on relationships, art, music, and storytelling. He found passions for acting, reading, writing, and playing music. 
Riley spent summers in both the piney woods of East Texas, where his beloved maternal grandparents lived, and in the Rocky Mountains where his beloved paternal family lived.

Riley was always infatuated with the arts, and he pursued interests in both acting and music from a young age. In high school, Riley was lead guitarist in a band with his musician friends. Playing in spots in and around Fredericksburg with the “International League of Super Pals” brought him great joy and happiness.

Riley followed his passions to Southwestern University, where he enrolled as an English major in 2009. While he served in admissions, giving prospective students tours of campus, he was also active building unique and lifelong friendships, especially with the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Riley’s door was always open, and because of his great music collection and ability to talk openly and deeply, his room was always full. At Southwestern, Riley’s final project compared jazz musicians to dialogue, and he developed the idea of jazz as the art form that most embodied spontaneous human connection and interaction.

After graduating in 2013, Riley chose to live in Austin, Texas. He got a gig guiding Segway tours, gliding through Austin with strangers-in-tow, a job that provided him with endless chances to explore his love of human interaction.

In 2014, Riley became the program director for The Front Porch, an Austin nonprofit and mission of the Episcopal Church dedicated to bringing people into communion through art, music, and openhearted conversation. Riley’s impact upon this organization and the community it serves is immeasurable. His luminous presence “on the porch” gave joy to so many.

He energized hundreds of amazing efforts and events that brought people together in a spirit of love. As the director of The Window, a Front Porch interfaith outreach program for youth, Riley helped lead the effort to raise over $20,000 to provide rubber sole shoes for students at a school in Loro, Uganda—an effort he called “Love For Loro.”

In 2017, Riley served at The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, where, as usual, he wove his way into the hearts of everyone with whom he worked.

Along this path, Riley met Jess Hughes, the love of his life. In 2018, Riley and Jess moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Jess began work on a Master of Fine Arts degree at The Ohio State University. Riley was recruited and hired to work at Quantum Health. At Quantum, Riley served as Disability Care Coordinator and Patient Advocate, in yet another position that allowed him to help others. Riley and Jess were planning to be married in the near future.

Riley will be terribly missed by every single person who ever crossed his path. His singular spirit, effervescent smile, openness to all, and love of life make his passing tragic. In life, Riley was special; in death, Riley asks us all to carry on his work of meeting people where they are, with kindness, love and understanding, every single day. Those of us who survive him are so grateful for such a consummate gift.

Riley is survived by his Parents, Donna and Kevan Webb; Grandmother Joy Richards; Aunt Monica Rosowski; Uncle Curtis and Aunt Kristy Webb; Aunt Carolea and Uncle Bruce Wright; Uncle Barry Webb; Cousins Melanie and Anna Rosowski, Kyle Richards Ross, Ian and Amy Wright, and Katharine, Clark, Alexander, Nichole and Anne Webb; his beloved Jess Hughes, and Bandit.

Riley was preceded in death by his Grandfather Bruce Richards, his Grandparents Lloyd and Barbara Webb, and his Uncle Rodney Richards.

Riley’s life will be celebrated on Saturday, June 1st, at 3:00 pm at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 209 W 27th St, in Austin, Texas. A reception will follow in the UT Student Center next door.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Riley Webb FHS Scholarship for the Arts (c/o Debbie Tiemann, Treasurer, 421 Cross Mountain Dr, Fredericksburg, TX 78624) or The Front Porch (209 W. 27th, Austin, TX 78705 or www.frontporchaustin.org)

We Will Miss You, Riley Jackson Webb

Dearest friends of the Front Porch,
I’m so sorry to have to post this for those of you who have not yet heard, but our beloved Riley Webb died yesterday in Columbus, Ohio of some kind of congenital heart failure. It’s unreal, but true. My heart is broken for Riley, for his heartbroken Mom and Dad, Donna and Kevan, and for the love of his life, Jess Hughes. Right now, I’m focusing my attention on the gift of Riley, whom we will celebrate at a memorial service at a time to be announced. His time with us on the porch was beautiful and transforming. Please pray for Donna and Kevan and Jess. May the indomitable, exuberant, life-affirming, people-loving spirit of Riley bring us more hope, faith, and love. 
Stephen

Riley Jackson Webb, after graduation from Fredericksburg High School

Last Pub Church of the Spring Season: with Pittman McGehee, Sr.

We’re closing out our stellar series of public house gatherings with our dear friend and one of the Front Porch’s perennial favorites, Rev. J. Pittman McGehee, DD. We’re going to have a conversation with Pittman about simple stuff–stuff that leads to woe, weal, or whee. (think god concepts projected onto the universe that get believed or not)
Pittman is an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst in private practice in Austin, Texas. He is a Diplomate in Analytical Psychology from the Jung Institute and is widely known as a lecturer and educator in the field of psychology and religion, as well as a published poet and essayist. He is the author of The Invisible Church: Finding Spirituality Where You Are (Praeger Press, 2008), Raising Lazarus: The Science of Healing the Soul (2009), Words Made Flesh, and The Paradox of Love.
We’re genuinely enthused to welcome artist and barrister Randy L. Langford, who plays music and practices relationally focused law in Austin, Texas. When he’s not doing those things he facilitates learning in the areas of ethics and criminal law at Concordia University Texas, and business law at St. Edward’s University. Randy’s transformational experience with restorative justice influences every area of his life.

Pub Church on Mother’s Day: the Mystery, the Wonder, and the Adventure of Aging with John Lee & Stan Coppinger & Marty Mitchell

This Sunday, 5:30-7pm, at Scholz Garten, the legendary John Lee is going to bring his hard-won insights into our human condition to Scholz Garten on Mother’s Day! We’re going to explore…wait for it…the fact of getting old. It may be a stretch, but there is a connection between mothering, aging, the men’s movement, and growing younger.

John Lee

Then again, there is this from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

John Lee is the author of the national best-selling book The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man and 23 other titles. Lee is one  of the early pioneers in the men’s movement, along with friend and colleague Robert Bly who called him, “One of the best teachers in the United States.” He is also a leader in the fields of recovery and addictions, anger management, and has written in the fields of Creativity, Relationships and Spirituality. He founded The Austin Men’s Center in 1986 and was former director. He has key-noted hundreds of conferences and workshops. He has appeared on Oprah, Dr. Oz, The View , NPR and featured in The New York Times, L.A. Times, and dozens of other national and international television, magazines, newspapers and videos. He has trained therapists at The Cleveland Clinic, South Pacific Private Hospital in Sydney,  Guy’s Hospital in London, The Hanley Center, Betty Ford and many others.

Our artists/musicians for the evening are Stan Coppinger and Marty Mitchell. Stan and Marty have been playing together for many years in the Austin area in various musical configurations. In the early ‘80s, they played in the UT party band, the “Rockmaker” which later morphed into the Condominiums” and “Pine Cones.” Marty played bass on both of Stan’s most recent CDs “Stan the Man as Usual” and “Fortune Morning” (Vox Pop Records).

Stan Coppinger came to the University of Texas in 1970 and found himself in the middle of the burgeoning Austin music scene, playing with such bands as the Conqueroo, the Bizarros, and Texoid, among others, at such legendary venues as the Armadillo, Soap Creek Saloon, Bevo’s, the One Knite, and the Continental Club. Stan lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for 3 years and toured northern Europe with his band the “Rattlers.” Stan is a retired attorney at law, having served 20 years for the State of Texas.

Marty was born in Oklahoma City and has played since age 15 in garage bands covering the hits of the day. He moved to Austin in 1979 and hooked up with “Rockmaker”, the band Stan played in which was the beginning of their long friendship and music collaboration. He earned a Computer Science at UT and has been working ever since as a Linux System Analyst/Programmer but continues to play with local bands. Picking up upright bass after college he quickly turned to playing Jazz Standards along with playing in the seminal Austin Motown band, Hot Wax. … And now, years later, he has moved back to guitar – his first love – and has reunited with Stan to depart on a new adventure in their long musical journey.

Stan and Marty both provide vocals, guitar and bass, with Marty adding upright bass. They perform a selection of country rock, classic country and rock, as well as Stan’s original compositions.

Pub Church on Cinco de Mayo: Life along the Borderlands with Aimee Bobruk

“If you don’t know, go find out.” A motorcycle ride along the Texas/Mexico border by one white, middle class, American woman who wanted to “know,” about those living at the edge.

Join us for this quest and amazing story. This Sunday, May 5th–Cinco de Mayo–we’re diving deeper into the migration from Mexico through the eyes of artist, musician, and now filmmaker, Aimee Bobruk. Scholz Garten, 5:30-7pm in the north dining room.

Borderlands is an independent documentary film following a nine day motorcycle ride along the Texas/Mexico border taken by Austin musician, Aimee Bobruk. Each day chronicles interviews with borderlanders sharing their views of what life is like along the border. The film features Bobruk’s original music inspired by the trip.

Aimee Bobruk is somewhat of a chameleon, she can change colors. Her shapeshifting creative spirit is evident as an independent filmmaker and songwriter. In the spring of this year she embarked on a motorcycle ride along the Texas/Mexico border to capture a snapshot of life and culture for her self-produced documentary, Borderlanders.

As an independent songwriter her music straddles the genres of American folk and ambient alternative rock. Most notably, her self-titled /ba.’brook/ was selected by Texas Music Magazine as one of top six indie albums released in the state in 2013 and her work as been called “nothing short of a work of art” by Performing Songwriter. In addition to writing and performing her own songs, Bobruk collaborates with songwriters and producers worldwide in the publishing industry. To date, her co-writes have earned her seven European title tracks, two of which were nominated for Grammy Awards in Germany and Norway. In 2015, her pop co-write “Black Swan,” competed in Melodifestivalen to represent Sweden at the International Eurovision Song Contest.

Recently in the fall of 2018, Bobruk received the Marguerite and Lamar Smith Writing Fellowship and lived in the childhood home of author,Carson McCullers’, in Columbus, GA writing and completing a collection of songs based on the writings of the author. In 2019 Bobruk was named the Woody Guthrie Fellow and will be creating a short film about Woody Guthrie in 2020.

We’ll meet in Scholz’ north dining room. Come early to get a seat and order food and drink. There is always plenty of free parking in the adjacent state parking garages, or on the street. As always, we close the evening with the chance to share communion through our unique invitation: “Before Jesus got turned into a religion, he wandered around, an itinerant rabbi, eating and drinking with sinners and outcasts.”

Pub Church: Migration from Mexico–Gavin Rogers and Tish Hinojosa

We’ll be on Scholz Garten’s outdoor stage to talk and sing about what we need to learn about the mass migrations happening along our southern border with Mexico. There is much to talk about and lots to feel–our guides for this conversation will be Gavin Rogers, Tish Hinojosa, and Bekah McNeel.

Gavin Rogers is the founder of the interfaith community group, Pub Theology San Antonio, and he helps pastor folks at Travis Park United Methodist Church. His work with the underserved in our community led to his joining one of the “migrant caravans” that journeyed from Honduras to the U.S. border.

Tish Hinojosa

One of 13 children born to Mexican immigrant parents in San Antonio, Tish Hinojosa has dedicated her career to playing music from the southwest, starting out in Tejano before moving on to singer/songwriter folk, border music and country. Tish is a legendary singer-songwriter, whose blend of folk, country, Latino, and pop has an undeniable far reaching appeal, garnering her accolades such as a White House concert at the invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton and teaming up with artists such as Joan Baez, Booker T. Jones, Flaco Jimenez, Pete Seeger, and Dwight Yoakam. With seventeen CDs to her name, Tish’s distinct sound has gained her much critical acclaim. She is winding up the tour for her latest release, “West.” She will soon be inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters–formed in 1936 to recognize Texans’ literary achievements. Previous recipients include Larry McMurtry, Sarah Bird, Naomi Shihab-Nye, and Americo Paredes. Last year they opened up nominations to include singer-songwriters and Willie Nelson was the 2018 recipient. Congratulations Tish!

Bekah McNeel is a freelance journalist living in San Antonio, Texas and also the Immigration Editor for Christianity Today. She reports on education, immigration, and inequity. In addition to local beat reporting, her work has been published with The Christian Science Monitor, The Texas Tribune, The Rivard Report, The Hechinger Report, and the 74 Million. She can be found on Twitter at @BekahMcneel and on her blog at www.bekahmcneel.com.

Bekah McNeel