What is our Core Purpose?

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This is the frontispiece from an early portfolio of The Front Porch back in 2008.

Our Board gathered recently to ponder the core purpose of The Front Porch.

For whatever reasons, The Front Porch resists “the Elevator Statement.” It’s just not that easy to pin it down.

We know that for The Front Porch to become all it’s envisioned to be, its purpose has to be focused and defined for everybody to understand.

Then again, it’s like sitting on any porch with good friends or interesting strangers–we muse and argue about ideas, relax, tell stories, eat, drink, and play music–we enjoy each other and have a good time, but it’s not easy to reduce the experience to a one-liner.

Anyway, here’s some of the thoughts and ideas that emerged between us at our gathering.

First, the Board responded to the simple question, “Why the Front Porch? Why does it exist?” Here’s some bullet responses…
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Dealing With Veterans’ Disconnection–and Our Own

_AND3024.NEFThe 2.4 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are all coming back, and they are bringing their “otherness” with them. Many of them return with head, body, mind, soul, and heart injury. They bring their PTSD, anger and depression, headache, soul-battered heartache, and disconnection with them.

We may try to compartmentalize them–out of sight, out of mind. We may try to keep them at a distance, even as we “thank them for their service.” But what we need to do is talk with them and learn from them. Why? Because their struggles and challenges simply magnify our own.

Their experience of learning how to live with a sense of disconnection and alienation in postmodern American culture intensifies our own experience of disconnection and alienation. Those of us who have not served in Iraq or Afghanistan may have found ways not to face it, but our veterans force us to look in the mirror. For them, the cat is out of the bag and there is no denial.
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Veterans’ Voices on the Porch: May 10 & 17

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It’s time to talk about “the elephant in the room.”  It’s time to start talking about our national responsibility to care for and support our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It may not be easy because there is lots of ambiguity surrounding all this.

In anticipation of Memorial Day, please join this conversation, which is held at All Saints’ Episcopal Church from 7-9pm on May 10th and 17th. NPR’s John Burnett will moderate our first gathering on May 10th, which includes Karl Slaikeu, an Austin based psychologist, mediator and author, who served for 12 months as Sr. Social Scientist with the US Army’s Human Terrain System in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. He co-authored “Five Questions for America to Answer about Afghanistan.”  The panel discussion that follows features Lieutenant Colonel Mike Segner, who served as the Deputy Director of Security for the “Green Zone” in Baghdad and also earned the Bronze Star among many other honors for his service.  We are also fortunate to have Austin Bay join the discussion. Austin,  author and syndicated columnist, served a total of 32 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a Colonel.

On May 17th, Jeremy Schwartz and Andrew O’Brien will tell their astonishing story. Jeremy Schwartz has written about veterans’ issues for the American-Statesman since 2009 and reported from Iraq in early 2011 and from Afghanistan in April 2012. He was part of the Statesman investigative team that determined causes of death for nearly 300 Texas Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in September 2012. One of Andrew O’Brien’s goals is to speak to service members before they leave the military, in hopes that those who are struggling as he did can relate to his story.

Guest Panelists include David W. Peters and David Scheider. David Peters served as an enlisted Marine 1994-2000 and deployed to Iraq as anArmy Chaplain in 2005. His article, “A Spiritual War: Crises of Faith in Combat Chaplains from Iraq and Afghanistan” is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Dave Scheider served 25 years as an active duty Army chaplain.

What’s happening on the Porch?

IMG_2323The Next Series: Veterans’ Voices on the Porch

Join us on two successive Friday evenings in mid-May for the first installment of an ongoing conversation with returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans’ Voices on the Porch will feature playwrights, authors, songwriters, chaplains, psychologists, and others who have been front and center in our nation’s decade-long conflict. May 10 and 17; 7pm – 9pm; All Saints’ Sanctuary and Kinsolving Hall.

Passing Strange

We are also collaborating with Half n Half Productions, to facilitate the “talk-back” for performances of Passing Strange, a rock musical about art, music and family–May 4 and 11th, at Highland Mall at 8pm.

Building Up

Please join us in thanking the following folks who currently serve and lead The Front Porch: Rev. Mike Adams, rector at All Saints’; Betsy Gerdeman, SVP @ KLRU; Martin and Heather Kohout, proprietors of Madrono Ranch and Art Center; David Saenz, superintendent with Bannister Homes; John Burnett, NPR; Mark Winter, CFO/EVP at DHI Mortgage; Larry Speck, principal at PageSoutherlandPage and former dean of UT School of Architecture; Rabbi Neil Blumhofe, senior rabbi at Agudas Achim; Dean Lofton, founder of DeanLoftonPR; Julie Wright, former theatre director at McCallum Fine Arts Academy and co-founder of Half n Half productions. We are also in the process of developing an Advisory Board.

Coming soon!

  • Celebrity Pulpit: When we had Rupert Isaakson here talking to us about The Horse Boy, an idea emerged to give local Austin “celebrities” the chance to give once-a-month TED-like talks from the pulpit at historic All Saints’ Episcopal Church on Friday or Saturday nights–with follow-up Front Porch conversations over food and wine in Kinsolving Hall.
  • Music for the Masses: All of the musicians who have played at All Saints’ love playing in the sanctuary—the sense of the sublime, coupled with uncanny acoustics, calls forth depth and meaning in their music. So we are planning monthly concerts and conversations with some of Austin’s finest musical artists.
  • Jazz Church:  Code name for bi-weekly Sunday afternoons of music, talk, dance, call and response, and meaning-making—all merged with the jazz virtuosity of Austin’s jazz tribe and co-hosted with Rabbi Neil Blumofe and others in the Vuka Coop.


Come to our events! Like us on Facebook. Sign up for the newsletter on the website. Help us create a community cultural center in Austin’s public square that gets folks talking, serving the community, and transforming lives. We hope to see you on the Porch!

The Sun Rising

Over the past five weeks, Art and the Other sought to explore art as a lens through which we come to better see and understand those we often perceive as different from ourselves.  By all accounts, this really happened. At the least, it seems like Art and the Other proved the following points:

1. When people come together and take the time to dwell with Art in all its varied forms, something is seen and recognized (at least made fresh!) in ways that were not seen before.

2. To improvise from Ken Burns’ great documentary on JazzThe real power of [The Front Porch], the real innovation of [The Front Porch] is that real people can come together and create art, improvise art, and negotiate their agendas with each other. And that negotiation is the art.

3.  Those of us on The Front Porch need to keep finding new venues and subjects that bring folks together to think, talk, and create.

Thank YOU for your support and participation on The Front Porch! With your continued support, we will be able to do what we want to do every day of the week.

Again, to adapt and paraphrase Ken Burns’ Jazz:  [The Front Porch] rewards individual expression but also rewards selfless collaboration; it is forever changing, but nearly always rooted in the blues; it has a rich tradition and its own rules, but it is brand new every night.  It is about just making a living and taking terrible risks, and losing everything and finding love.” Hope to see you on the porch!

Art and the Other: Can We See Each Other?

Whom do we fear? Or hide from? Or scapegoat? Or stigmatize? Why does difference divide us? How can we move beyond  assumptions and stereotypes to recognize  our common humanity and appreciate our distinctive gifts?

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Join us on Friday evenings in the season of Lent as we explore these and similar questions through a variety of artistic media. As parables shift our perspective on the ordinary, so art may help us to see the other in a way we normally do not. With new in-sight, we can be transformed to see “the other” anew.

Art and the Other discovers and celebrates the power of words, music, and images to reveal, connect, and transform.

Fridays at 7 p.m. at All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

February 22:    Art and the Other: The Homeless Other

March 1:          Art and the Other: The Religious Other

March 8:         Art and the Other: Rhyme on the Other Side

March 15:      Art and the Other: The Assumption of the Other

March 22:      Art and the Other: The Mentally Different Other

Looking Behind and Moving Ahead

The Future road sign picLast Saturday’s Roots Rock & Soul event marked the culmination of our fall series at The Historic Victory Grill. We brought together a host of amazing musicians – many of whom we first got to know last fall on our Sunday Stage – for a soulful celebration honoring the fine work of Capitol View Arts. It was a glorious finale to a deep season of conversation, creativity, connection, and community. We at The Front Porch owe a profound debt of gratitude to Capitol View Arts and The Historic Victory Grill for providing us a place to call home. Over the past few months, we have come to know the VG crew – Clifford, Alissa, Abel, Joseph, Nicole, Jason, Ron – not only as friends, but as family.

If there is one word that springs to mind when we reflect on our fall series, it is “learning.” During our Sunday Salon gatherings, we learned what it means to dwell together in dialogue. We learned to be open and vulnerable, to share our own hard-won ideas and perspectives while honoring those of others – even those with whom we might strongly disagree. We learned that beauty, truth, and meaning are not conceptual objects that we can determine, define, and possess, but evolving relational realities that continually emerge among and between us.

On the Sunday Stage, we heard from some of Austin’s finest musicians and learned about the challenges and opportunities they face. We learned that those who seek to make a living as musicians in “The Live Music Capital of the World” often have a harder time of it than those in less musically savvy cities. We learned about organizations like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Capitol View Arts, Patronism.com, and the Live Music Capital Foundation, each of which works in its own unique way to ensure that  musicians can live their lives as they work toward living their dream. Perhaps above all, we learned anew that music is food for the soul and fodder for community building, that nothing brings people together like the shared experience of song.

So we learned a great deal this past fall. And we continue to learn. Indeed, The Front Porch is “a learning organization.” In his book The Fifth Discpline, Peter Senge defines a learning organization as “an organization where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together” (Senge 1990: 3). That pretty well sums up The Front Porch ethos. We are learners, pupils, wayfarers, pilgrims – we are wandering wonderers on an ever-winding road. Where will the road lead? It’s impossible to say. But that’s what gives inspiration and energy to the quest. We can’t begin to say with certainty what the future holds. It could be that reality fails to live up to our deepest dreams. Then again, reality might very well outpace them. That’s the joy of the journey; that’s the beauty of the unknown.

As we look ahead, we do know this: we will continue to learn, to grow, to emerge, to evolve. With your help, we will continue to co-create something – a way of talking, a way of gathering, a way of thinking, a way of being – that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Whether it’s our upcoming Lenten Series at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, or the new incarnation of the Sunday Salon, or our ongoing efforts to acquire our own permanent café and event space, we hope you will partner with us to cultivate community, one conversation at a time.



Roots Rock & Soul – Saturday, January 26, 2013

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A Front Porch Festival at the Victory Grill—Furthering the Fine Work of Capitol View Arts

Come support the historic Victory Grill’s legacy of supporting arts and culture in Austin since 1945.

This will be a Saturday night to remember. Join us for back-to-back performances with some of Austin’s finest: urban folk enchantress Erin Ivey; Cajun goddess Wendy Colonna; bone-rattling Charlie Pierce and Choctaw Wildfire; blues prodigy Darius Jackson; gut punching poet J.Redd; R&B diva MyzB; soulful chanteuse Serafia; and the mind-blowing musical wizardry of John Pointer.

Doors at 6pm. Show 7-midnight. Food. Drink.

You’ll love the Capitol view from the Victory Grill!

Suggested donation of $10 at the door. All proceeds benefit Capitol View Arts.

Let’s Keep Talking!

On the Front Porch, we believe it takes time to understand one another. We human beings are not easy to understand!

In a tribute to the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, we introduce his insight into the challenge of  understanding by exploring the ideas in his essay, Interiority and Epiphany: a reading in New Testament Ethics (1997).

It’s tempting to think there is an ideal listener out there who really gets “who we are.” Yet in the effort to communicate our “true selves” to another—to the less perfect listeners with whom we are actually engaged—we are easily frustrated by how obscure others seem to be. We become obscure to ourselves.

In any given community,  efforts to communicate are hampered by the fact that each of us see and interpret things differently. And, since we assume some things are truer than other things, it’s easy to project our notions of normalcy onto others. We imagine that our external or false selves get in the way of our authentic, inner selves…and that if only we could shed the husks, we could get at the kernels and gain more immediate understanding.

Unfortunately, this modern idea that we have a core self that needs to be excavated and communicated to other true selves actually undermines our ability to dialogue and keeps us disconnected. If in fact there is no pre-given identity (the so-called true self), then the self is not a substance in and of itself but an integrity that one must struggle to bring into existence over time. Our interiority, then, is a construct that only emerges through the labor of ongoing exchange in dialogue.

Simply put, our reasoning and motivations are not immediately transparent to others; we need one another to help us clarify and articulate who we are. We are discovered in the world of exchange, where conversation is open-ended and unscripted. This takes time. It takes partnering.

We never cease to be vulnerable to how others perceive and define us. We have to revise continually what we say whenever there is a breakdown in the exchange.  Such a breakdown forces us to ask, “What did I mean? What do you mean?” Sadly, when we stop such revision, we’ve closed off the other, or defined the other in terms of our projections, and understanding ceases. Building the community for which we hunger requires learning to talk and insists we keep talking!

Enjoyed our Fall Gatherings at the Victory Grill!

Sunday Salon at the Victory Grill

We’ve had a great time hanging out at the Victory Grill with you.  Clifford Gillard and his crew have made us feel at home. We have had some great acts on our Sunday Stage. And some amazing conversations at our Salon. We’ve reached the end of our fall schedule at the Victory Grill.

But, fear not! Enjoy your holidays and then join us again in 2013. For starters, we’ll be hosting an event at All Saints’Episcopal Church on Epiphany–January 6, at 5 p.m. There’ll be Choral Evensong followed by a special evening of music, drama and art–and great refreshment.  It will be a mystical, artful evening.

On Saturday, January 26th, clear your calendar, and come on back to the Victory Grill for our Front Porch Festival. We’ll have an afternoon and evening festival of music to benefit our partners–John Pointer and Patronism.com plus The Victory Grill and Capitol View Arts. Most of the folks we’ve hosted on the Sunday Stage will be back–John Pointer with a few Patronism artists, Darius Jackson, Erin Ivey, Paul Finley, Serafia Jane, and  more.   On that day, at our Festival, we’ll tell you what’s next on the Front Porch.